opinion: court is no place for amateurs

Appointments to a lay bench are driven by a desire for 'balance', which can have bizarre consequences

There is no role for a lay bench in the administration of justice in the magistrates' courts. Lay magistrates are not necessary in principle and are unsatisfactory in practice. Their duties should be taken over by stipendary magistrates as soon as is practically possible.

If there is a demand from the public for lay involvement in magistrates' courts, then this can be done by appointing lay people to magistrates' court committees.

Lay involvement in schools is established by appointments to the governing body, not by appointing unqualified, unpaid people to act as teachers once a week. Lay involvement in hospitals is established by appointments to the boards of NHS trusts, or as members of community health councils, not by appointing unqualified, unpaid people to act as surgeons once a week.

The stipendary magistracy is superior in practice to the lay bench in every respect (eg, training, professional conduct, method of appointment, motivation).

The "training" given to lay magistrates cannot possibly be equated with that of stipendary magistrates, who have studied for professional examinations. The "training" given to justices of the peace, both initial and refresher, is undemanding and would not enable them to pass any examination of which I am aware. Rather than rely upon constant advice from the court clerks to make up this deficiency, such clerks should themselves become stipendary magistrates.

The lay bench relies upon experience (seniority), in the absence of a professional qualification. This can cause resentment on the part of older people appointed to the bench when they have to work with senior magistrates who may be 10 years younger. Such older junior magistrates have been known to refuse to accept advice or explanation on court matters from younger seniors and to have objected to sitting with chairman younger than themselves.

The criteria for appointment as a stipendary magistrate can be simply aptitude and qualifications. Appointments to the lay bench are driven by a desire to obtain a "balance", to reflect the composition of the local community, which can have bizarre consequences.

Some lay magistrates from particular groups or organisations, have been known to feel that they have been appointed to represent their particular body, and not because of their suitability to discharge the duties of a JP. Any disquiet about the way in which they carry out their duties, or failure to obtain a position within the bench, is regarded by many of them as discrimination against their particular group.

An appointment as a stipendary magistrate can be seen as progression within a chosen profession. Many lay magistrates see their appointment as an opportunity to make useful social contacts. They are keen to use the initials "JP" after their names whenever permissible, and to attend social events for magistrates, ranging from formal dinners to sports matches. Such justices give the impression that their duties involving the administration of justice are coincidental to their appointment as lay magistrates.

The author served as a justice of the peace for almost14 years. This article is based on a submission to the Lord Chancellor's working party on magistrates.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing